Ikiru (1952)

Class: User
Author: Chaos
Score: (5/5)
August 25th, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Without a doubt, Ikiru is my favorite Toho film, Kurosawa film and film altogether. Only two films have actually had me seriously reflecting on life, existence and humanity. The first is this film; the second is Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004). Ikiru surpasses genius in nearly all areas. The story is both brilliant and poetic; the acting is extraordinary as is the character development and the score works brilliantly with the film.

The story revolves around Kanji Watanabe, a man who has basically sold his soul to Japan's postwar bureaucratic system. His life is devoid of any major accomplishments, save for perhaps the fact he's never taken a day off work for nearly 30 years.

Watanabe, who has been feeling strange lately, goes to see a doctor. In the waiting room, a patient chats with him a little about stomach cancer. The symptoms the patient describes perfectly coincide with those of Watanabe. According to the patient, he has no more than a year to live.

Shocked, Watanabe returns home and reflects on his son, Mitsuo, who has married, grown apart from him and is planning to obtain a large sum of money from him to buy a better house. Watanabe realizes that this is partially his own fault, since a majority of his time was spent toiling away in the office and not with his child.

Watanabe draws a large sum of money from his bank account and heads to a local bar, planning to drink himself to death. There, he meets a writer who, feeling pity for the man, takes him for a night on the town. The two visit various nightclubs and bars and there, Watanabe discovers things and feelings previously alien to him.

Kanji soon encounters Toyo Odagiri, a former co-worker of his. Her happy, carefree personality hits a chord in him and he takes her out to various places, worrying Mitsuo and his wife, Kazue, who fear that a woman in their father's life would interfere with their obtaining his inheritance. Toyo soon grows tired of Kanji and almost disgusted with him. On their last night out, Watanabe reveals to her his secret and asks her what he should do with the time he has left. At Toyo's suggestion that he make something, Watanabe realizes what he must do: devote his time to the construction of a children's park desired by the public, but doing this requires going up against his fellow bureaucrats and their soulless system.

The story is absolutely wonderful, allowing no points for the audience to lose interest. From the beginning, it sucks you into its world, allowing you to feel like you're actually in the film discovering the beauty of life along with Watanabe, but also feeling his pain like it was your own. There are plenty of emotional moments as well. The scene in the nightclub where Watanabe requests an old song from his youth, only to find it holds a great significance, is the closest I've come to crying in a movie.

The acting is beyond superb. Takashi Shimura gives the performance of his career, portraying everything about his character perfectly: his awkward speech patterns and movements, his soulless, almost chilling facial expressions and of course, his grief. The rest of the actors do exceptionally well with their roles as well. Miki Odagiri coveys Toyo's cheery personality flawlessly without being too over the top, as does Yunosuke Ito, who could have been hard to take seriously in the scenes when he's drunk, but yet manages to stay classy, yet still be humorous. Nobuo Kaneko and Kyoko Seki do a wonderful job portraying their selfish characters, Mitsuo and Kazue Watanabe. The performances allow us to dislike them, but not despise them as they portray a kind of humanity. The rest of the cast all do commendable jobs. There's not one bad performance.

Like most of Kurosawa's films, Ikiru is chock full of character development. Kanji Watanabe is a fantastic, multi-layered character and perhaps Kurosawa's ultimate hero, conquering not a horde of bandits or gangs, but himself, life and the system, which is in my eyes, a greater achievement. He starts out an empty shell, but slowly evolves into a hero, shedding his old persona (symbolized by his new hat) and achieving a perfect understanding of life and how to live it, conveyed in his final scene on the swing. The supporting cast is given a good chunk of development as well. Toyo Odagiri is a sort of anomaly among the bureaucrats, possessing, unlike them, personality and a cheery outlook on life. The character isn't one note though; she takes a serious turn in the last 50 minutes of the film. Mitsuo and Kazue Watanabe function pretty much as a single entity, but are still greatly fleshed out. Both are selfish and ungrateful to their father for the things he's sacrificed for them: women, time and ultimately, his own soul. Their motivation for obtaining Watanabe's inheritance though, is perfectly reasonable, bringing an extra dimension to the characters. The author is more of a plot device than a character, taking Watanabe out and allowing him to truly live for the first time, but he still is given a bit of development, feeling pity and great respect for Watanabe, whose plight causes the author to rethink his own life.

Fumio Hayasaka's score, like most of his others, is unmemorable but works perfectly as an enhancer. The Life is Brief song however, is absolutely brilliant, with its somber melody and lyrics that touched my very soul. The rest of the themes serve to enhance emotions in the viewer triggered by the film, elevating the dread when Watanabe discovers he has cancer, the sorrow when he reflects on his son and the energy and humor when Watanabe and the author visit various nightclubs.

Ikiru for me is one of those films that transcends art and becomes a reflection of life itself, forcing me to contemplate my existence. What minor flaws are present in the film are more than compensated for by the poetic story, brilliant acting, well rounded characters and well done score. I ask, no, beg anyone who reads this review to somehow get a hold of a copy of Ikiru, I guarantee it will have you thinking for days.